Far Eastern Environmental Health Fund (FEHF)
Terragraphics Environmental Engineering
In Russia the problem of lead poisoning remains very serious in the areas with long history of mining and smelting. The Rudnaya River Valley is one of such areas. It is located in the Russian Far East in the north-eastern part of Primorye region. This area is very rich in mineral deposits and relatively densely populated. The district center is town Dalnegorsk with population about 40,000 people. There are also several other smaller settlements: Rudnaya Pristan, Smychka, Monomakhovo, Serzhantovo, Taiga, and Krasnorechensk. The studies of Russian and American scientists at the end of 20th and the beginning of 21st centuries revealed a very high level of contamination of soil, dust, and garden produce in Dalnegorsk and Rudnaya Pristan with heavy metals.
The lead ore is produced from several mines in the valley and processed at the refining factory in Dalnegorsk. Then lead and zinc concentrate from the factory is then is transported to Rudnaya Pristan, a small town located at the mouth of Rudnaya River about 40 kilometers south of Dalnegorsk. The concentrate used to be smelted in Rudnaya Pristan before 2005, but now it is just being exported by sea using port of Rudnaya Pristan. After 100 years of the work of mining and smelting industry the valley became ubiquitously contaminated with lead, cadmium, arsenic, zinc, copper, and other heavy metals. In 2005 smelting lead concentrate in Rudnaya Pristan was stopped, which significantly improved the air quality. But the issue of lead poisoning risk was not solved because the soils were still highly contaminated. The average concentration of the main contaminant lead in soils within 1 kilometer from the smelter is over 2,200 ppm, which is more the 4 times higher than the USEPA lowest cleanup trigger level (400 ppm). At one playground right next to the refining factory in Dalnegorsk the concentration of lead in soil exceeded 11,000 ppm. The concentration of lead in potatoes – one of the main local food items – was as high as 24 ppm. All these facts strongly indicate the possibility of high risk of lead poisoning. According to the results of blood lead testing of children in 2005 in Dalnegorsk 21% of children had blood lead levels over “safe” level of 10 ug/dl. In more contaminated Rudnaya Pristan about 50% of children had elevated blood lead levels.
Based on the results of the conducted research the Far Eastern Environmental Health Fund (FEHF) in cooperation with Terragraphics Environmental Engineering in 2005 developed a practical project to address the issue of lead poisoning. The project was first supported by Blacksmith Institute and it was expanded in 2007 with support of Green Cross Switzerland. The administration of Dalnegorsk District also in 2007 adopted a municipal program in order to participate in and help implementing the project. The project included activities on remediation of contaminated soils, studying exposure of people, medical monitoring of children, and education and awareness efforts.
During the project implementation from 2007 to 2009 in Dalnegorsk the number of children with high blood lead levels decreased 2.5 times. In 2007 in Dalnegrosk 22% of tested children had elevated blood lead levels. In 2009 this figure dropped to only 9%. This is the main achievement of the project showing that conducted actions produce visible results.